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  • Richard Hemming MW
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  • Richard Hemming MW
18 Jan 2013

From £10.50, €13.35, 21.40 Swiss francs, 109 rand

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This wine of the week is notable for several reasons, not least that it isn't from burgundy. After weeks of saturation in the stuff, this is surely blessed relief! 

More saliently, it is labelled as only 12% alcohol, and sealed under cork. When you consider that it is a South African Sauvignon Blanc (a grape by which I am rarely moved), this is a rare beast indeed, and it invites investigation.

Most New World Sauvignon Blanc (in the UK at least) is either from Marlborough or aspires to be. We are awash with highly ripe, often off-dry wines with pungent citrus flavours frequently accompanied by herbal, green characters from the pyrazine family.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, and large numbers of drinkers still seem super-keen to lap up that sort of thing. Some others, however, have been tiring of its unsubtle flavours, alcohol levels that reach 14% and ever-thickening mouthfeel. It can sometimes seem as if each new vintage is more exaggerated than the last.


Especially for those doubters, then, Fryer's Cove Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Bamboes Bay (a coastal ward of the Olifants River region, about 220 km north of Cape Town) represents a most refreshing change. It is recognisably Sauvignon Blanc without any gross greenness. Three months of lees ageing and bâtonnage, including a small oak-fermented proportion, has given texture and mouthfeel without undue weight. It is only 12% alcohol, but finishes bone dry and with well-aligned acid and fruit intensity.

I found it very heartening to know that wine can be made with these characteristics without compromising balance or flavour. It has as much complexity and length as you could hope for at its price. Indeed, at this price I can't think of a Sauvignon I'd rather have – and it's certainly better value than most equivalent Sancerres.

Two of its most distinguishing features, however - the closure and the low alcohol - are not permanent fixtures, it transpires. Fryer's Cove winemaker Wynand Hamman tells me that 2011 was so low in alcohol due to unseasonably high December rainfall (resulting in dense canopy cover), plus early picking to avoid the threat of rot provoked by coastal fogs - it sounds to me as if bad vintage conditions ended up improving quality! While he is 'in favour of lower alcohol, the grapes have to reach the correct ripeness and must have the flavour profile which we are looking for', he tells me. For the 2012 vintage, that amounts to 13.5% alcohol.

I also asked him about using corks. 'The reason for corks is mainly because we are a very small producer and the decision to use cork was mainly due to cost, ease of applying and not having to buy in big quantities', he says. 'Personally I like cork as it is a sustainable and green product, which goes with our vision, but it also adds class, and if it is a good cork it definitely adds more complexity to our wines.' 

However, despite using 'corks of the best quality', TCA cork taint reared its ugly nose, forcing a switch to screwcaps as of the 2012 vintage. 

The 2011 has now sold out at the winery but is still available via retailers in the UK, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa and Belgium. 

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